Gulnara Karimova: Is She Ready to be the Next President of Uzbekistan?

by Traveler on 4/8/2013 · 5 comments

Gulnara Karimova, infamous daughter of Islam Karimov, the president of Uzbekistan, is considered by many as a potential successor to her father’s seat. When rumors about the health of Karimov spread fast throughout the Internet from the opposition groups’ websites up to “New York Times”, discussions about who will come to power next in Uzbekistan became an entertaining hot topic.

“New York Times” reports that Gulnara Karimova resigned as envoy to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday, that is, April 2. The paper implies she is trying to position herself for a larger role at home. Did Ms. Karimova really start her campaign toward that goal? Is she ready to be the next president of Uzbekistan?

A quick review of her recent activities and sayings does not seem to give a positive answer to these questions. It looks like she is in one of the following two situations: She does not really want to be the next president, or she does not expect her father to leave the power any time soon. Another possible scenario is that she does not know how to run for power.

Let us quickly review the factors that made me think this way.

First of all, she did not make any political move yet. Everything she did so far is related to charity and art/fashion-related activities. If we assume that Karimov might die any time soon due to his poor health, or will leave the power in the upcoming presidential election, which is scheduled to be held in early 2015, Gulnara Karimova is not yet politically ready to accept the position, or run for the elections in 2015.

You can rightly argue that anything might happen in Uzbekistan, which has no tradition of democracy. It is very possible that anyone who has money and power can assume the presidency in Uzbekistan giving zero care to democracy or legal rules.

However, all dictators seek legitimacy, at least, for the eyes of the public. For the same purpose, Gulnara Karimova is trying to show herself in the public as someone who is very kind, soft, loves children, art and cares about everyone around her. It would not please her to appear as a ruthless politician who suddenly assumes power without any legitimate bases. If she has any desire to be the next head of the state, she will try to achieve this goal without losing her current public image (Please note that by public image I mean her public appearance, not how people perceive her).

If this is the case, then one or two years is not enough for her to build an image of a strong politician who could be seen as a major contender for the leadership post. So far, she did not or does not hold any influential political position within the government structures. Her role as a deputy foreign minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and her diplomatic positions held abroad does not confer her any influence or real power within the political establishment of Uzbekistan.

She even does not speak Uzbek language. We never saw her saying a single word in Uzbek other than singing a couple of songs with heavy accent. The Constitution of Uzbekistan stipulates that the president should be fluent in the official language of the country. So, if she really wants to be the president, she needs to learn the official language as her father did. To master good speaking skills takes time.

Let me now go to the next assumption. Some argue that Gulnara Karimova is building her image among the masses though her non-governmental charity activities, which they see as the first step toward entering the politics. If this is true, then the current president is not going to leave the power anytime soon or until his death. If Karimova really wants to be the next president, then she apparently thinks that she has enough time to be able to do so. As I mentioned earlier, so far she did not make any serious move toward entering politics. Some observers noted that her online attack on Rustam Azimov, a deputy Prime Minister and one of the major contenders for the presidency, is a sign that she is accelerating her plans. This may be an attempt to get rid of Azimov, but does not prove that Karimova is now politically active.

The weird question is how well she is capable of running a successful presidential campaign. A Harvard-educated business lady does not seem to have a good PR team. She tweets about anything and everywhere and occasionally gets involved into debates with the critics of her father’s regime. Her writings in English are also not well-composed. It looks she does not have a well-planned strategy in her online social media engagement. Even her personal website is poorly set up and difficult to navigate. Pages do not open properly. Information on these pages does not give us an image of an aspiring political leader.

It is also interesting to see that she recently opened a blog in a platform, which is blocked inside Uzbekistan.  I do not know for which purpose this blog serves. Blog template is poorly chosen. English, Russian and Uzbek entries all are placed in one category called Novosti (News in English). The quality of writings is also very bad. Facts and thoughts are very disorganized, and it is difficult to understand what she is talking about.

Does she do this deliberately to make it appear that she is writing all these tweets and blogs herself? If yes, then she is not what she tries to be like.

With the money she has, she could easily hire the best PR companies of the world to work for her. Such companies actually do not mind to work for authoritarian regimes. It seems she did not choose to opt for this way yet.

In a nutshell, Ms. Karimova is unlikely to be the next president of Uzbekistan. If his father suddenly dies, it appears she will be unable to assume the power immediately. Even if we assume that she is the most powerful person after her father in Uzbekistan, initially she will have to run the country through someone else until she becomes comfortable to assume the power herself directly.

UPDATE: The Times ran a correction on April 10: Karimova “remains an envoy to the United Nations in Geneva; she did not in fact resign in early April.”

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Zokir April 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

The problem with the analysis above is that it is mostly based on the information one can get from the outside of the country. Internet. We dont know much about the many other actors who would influence a possible political change. We can only speculate.

The arts and fashion shows, as well as charity and sports activities and concerts have won not few Uzbeks’ hearts. Nevertheless, many ordinary people in Uzbekistan see her as a personality that changes the image of Uzbekistan from a rusty post-Soviet murky land to something new. She is very modern, Uzbeks say she is a person that has lived and been abroad, so she represents also new way of thinking and doing of things, has a more open mentality, at least that’s what many Uzbeks assume. Look at the poor Ministry of Culture in Uzbekistan, whose ministers do not stay long in their positions (some are even criminally persecuted), because their work is not even a close match to the scale of FundForum activities and projects it is pursuing. Moreover, the fact that she is a woman (for a politician a good looking one, indeed) could help her in showing of this new image of Uzbekistan to the outside world as a non-authoritarian, non-despotic and rather softer and younger and a more modern fresh leader. The problems with Teliasonera scandal could damage her image outside, but to this day there is no one evidence or proof of her personal involvement in those litigations. She could always claim that those people whose names appear in the cases both in Sweden and Switzerland knew her, but she had nothing to do with those crimes. In fact, she did say that already in an interview to a Swiss magazine.

In addition, it is difficult to say what policies she would implement if she were to become the president of Uzbekistan at this moment. Would she indeed liberalize the economy in Uzbekistan, would she make it more accessible to foreign companies to invest in Uzbekistan and guarantee non-intervention by the state law-enforcement agencies and would she stop the raiding of profitable businesses by corrupt officials, would she proceed with the full implementation of the human rights obligations Uzbekistan has made itself a signatory to (the problem with Uzbekistan’s rogue human rights situation also owes to the fact that in the 1990s Uzbekistan has signed and ratified all major human rights conventions, and their optional protocols, so some considerable lawmaking capability will be required here), and how she would develop the relations with neighbouring countries – from war torn Afghanistan to isolated Tajikistan. These are some of the issues she would have to act on in the next months to come, if she were to consider gaining the presidency.

I also think she would have to work a lot with some major powerbrokers in Uzbekistan on the smooth transition of power, where influential people in the today’s government would make a deal with her. There would not be trust on both sides anyway, due to numerous ambitious apparatchiks, and if this issue is not addressed by her (or her father) soon things could go rough for her.

Considering these facts, it is most probable however that Islam Karimov would not rush with the transitioning of power to his daughter, and instead prefer to stay at power himself for as long as his health permits (Navruz dancing was intended to show how energetic the leader still is, but instead the awkward moves showed how old the man actually got).

PS: All her websites are indeed low quality, and have not been changed since their launch almost ten years ago. Not being a native speaker of English myself, I also noticed her street level English both on tweeter and blog.

Bruno De Cordier April 16, 2013 at 1:45 am

Zokir is right when he says that we don’t know much about the many other actors who would influence a possible political change. One knows little about Uzbekistan’s Inner Party, and very often what circulates about the country in the media still goes back to the usual international liberal cliques around Craigh Murray, ICG and HRW.

In a way, I find Karimova junior folkloristic rather than serious. Everyone’s staring themselves blind on her, the show and glam aspect etc… whereas Karimov senior might as well be succeeded by someone totally invisible and unknown up to now (an ‘Uzbek Putin’ for that matter).

I remember that 7 to 8 years ago in Kazakhstan, there was much speculation about an imminent successtion of the Elbaçi by his daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva. She started her own political part, a tv channel, … then suddenly, around 2007, her party was merged with that of her father and she almost disappeared from the political field up to the extend that nobody still considers it an option that she’ll succeed Nazarabayev.

AS April 13, 2013 at 9:28 am

I will disagree with your conclusion that because Gulnara does not hold an official senior position in the government she lacks “real power.” Real power is Central Asian politics is not derived from your institutional title or position in a bureaucracy but from the relationships you have with other elites and the size of your bank account. I think most citizens in Uzbekistan understand that quite clearly and Karimova doesn’t need to hold a senior position for people to understand that she is a powerful and influential figure positioned to become the next president.

Also I disagree that there is no evidence of her interest in politics, the blog post attacking Azimov is clearly the most public sign of her emergence into politics within Uzbekistan. Why else would she publish such opinions so publically…I don’t know how you could interpret it in any way other than a political move??

MaxNap April 15, 2013 at 2:40 am

I defenitely agree with you AS that the power of Karimova does not have to be revaeled publicly in order to get proven her power in politics. Even though she will not be able to get presidency after her father, it would be very appreciated to maintain her most helpful works for the young generations on education, sports, and so many paths to get their goals by fundform budgets!!

mishael May 3, 2013 at 3:53 am

women are meant to be under men not to rule men.Whether hereditary or not nature and God have placed women under men see detail at

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